Why “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” rules as the unofficial anthem of the Mummers Parade.
Head for Broad Street on New Year’s Day and you’ll hear plenty of familiar tunes, but “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” rules as the unofficial anthem of the Mummers Parade. Maybe it’s the local connection: The song was written in 1879 by African-American composer James Bland, who died, penniless, in Philly and is buried in Merion Cemetery. Then again, there’s the fact that though “Slippers” sounds like a spiritual, it’s actually a sly parody of an earlier gospel song, and mocks the likelihood of Judgment Day bringing shiny footwear to all the faithful. Which makes it the perfect ode to a tradition that, what with straight men tottering along in high heels, Sansabelt wearers decked out in sequins and feathers, workaday lugs starring on saxophone and banjo, and everyone involved pretending they’re not freezing their asses off, is all about things not being what they seem.
Originally published in Philadelphia Magazine, January 2008